Monday, May 20, 2019

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Trump Needs A War With Iran. The Big Question Is Whether He Can Be Stopped.

A war would be the ultimate public and news media distraction for the beleaguered Donald Trump, whose encyclopedic criminality and corruption have now prompted no fewer than 29 federal, state and congressional investigations.  Despite there not being evidence that the U.S. is being provoked, when and if that war comes, it will be because the world's biggest schoolyard bully has targeted Iran. 
And so instead of a steady diet of Trumpian malfeasance, there will be commentators breathlessly talking over footage of Tomahawk cruise missiles being launched against the Tehran regime, massive troop deployments to the Middle East (120,000 so far), and the first trickle of American casualties, which inevitably will become a flood because Iran's military is no pushover, a ground war would be catastrophic and Iran can rely on Hezbollah and other groups to launch terror attacks abroad and target U.S. troops in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 
The big question is whether Trump can be stopped.   
A second question almost as big is whether a country that has become inured to war (Afghanistan has been going on three times as long as World War II, dude), keeping the Pentagon humming and politically hotwired defense contractors fat and happy, can be weaned from its addiction. 
The answers to both questions are not encouraging. 
Trump came into office determined to destroy the status quo between the U.S. and its allies regarding Iran, undoing an imperfect but workable rapprochement hammered out by the Obama administration.  And after some stumbles, Trump finally has assembled a team of jingoistic war hawks who worship at the altar of American Exceptionalism.  The team is led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, both willfully blind to evidence that Iran has put its nuclear program on hold in return for an easing of economic sanctions. 
There is a common denominator among Trump, Pompeo and Bolton: None understand the concept of restraint and all are practiced liars.   
So Trump's recent protestations that he doesn't want a war with Iraq are uncredible, as George W. Bush might say, and all the more so after a single rocket attack, probably launched by an Iran-backed Shiite militia, slammed into Baghdad's Green Zone on Sunday, prompting Trump to tweet that a war between Washington and Tehran would result in "the official end of Iran.  Never threaten the United States again!" 
Complicating this volatile mix is that there does not appear to be a consensus among the three as to what U.S. policy should be except the vague belief that Iran must remake itself into a nation of which the U.S. can approve, the Islamic Republic's national sovereignty be damned.  If that sounds familiar, it is exactly the tack the Bush administration took so disastrously in Iraq, where it could muster the support of only a few allies because it was so obviously the wrong response to 9/11 -- the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Given Trump's policy of alienating even America's most important allies, beyond Israel and Saudi Arabia, he can expect to go it alone this time.  Long story short: The lessons of Iraq have not been learned any more than the lessons of Vietnam. 
Oh, and Trump can't be stopped although there will be Republican defections in Congress. 
This brings us to the answer to the second question and what I call the Doctrine of Perpetual War.  
To the extent that political pundits even address the matter, the blame for this collaborative Pentagon-defense industry madness is correctly yet shortsightedly put on Dubya.  But when taken in the larger context of 70 years of war in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, lest we forget, those big evildoers in little Grenada, Americans -- and Democratic pols -- seem to be okey-dokey with war even if they tell pollsters that they're tired of it. 
A war with Iran will take a familiar course.  
Pardon the term in Trump's case, but the commander in chief will experience a healthy popularity spike.  At least until the casualties mount, the battlefield images become too grisly and the economy tanks.  And the realization dawns that starting a war is much easier than ending one, especially in the volatile Middle East, which prompted military historian and  conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot to opine that a war with Iran "would be the mother of all quagmires."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sneak Peeks At History Writ Large: A Trip Not Taken & A Letter Not Appreciated

History has a pretty good way of eventually making sense of the events of a particular era even as they flash by us at the hypersonic speed of our 24/7 news world.  But two events in particular will be worthy of chapters of their very own when definitive histories are written of the profound maleficence of Donald Trump.  
First is that Trump, as has been copiously documented, asked for and received help from the Russian government in his improbable 2016 election "victory" but has been denying that ever since.  Yet despite those denials amidst nonstop claims of a "witch hunt," his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani planned to head to neighboring Ukraine later this month for . . . uh, help from its government in Trump's 2020 reelection bid.   
Second, an open letter published online on May 6 that has been signed by more than 800 former federal prosecutors who state unequivocally that Trump would be facing multiple felony charges were he not president and therefore safe from indictment, is hugely significant because so many of the signatories are not merely Republicans but rock-ribbed conservatives appropriately outraged by Trump's conduct.    
Under normal circumstances, whatever they may be today, Giuliani's blatantly hypocritical act -- which is yet another ethical lapse in a career full of them -- would be deeply embarrassing to the White House, but instead you had the sight of the reliably if comically repugnant Giuliani blaming it all on Democratic "spin" as he called off the trip after the inevitable shitstorm of bad publicity. 
"We're not meddling in an election; we're meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.  There’s nothing illegal about it.  Somebody could say it's improper.  And this isn’t foreign policy," Giuliani said with his trademark word salad candor in acknowledging that the trip was to push for investigations that could help Trump.  
Giuliani freely shared the dirty details of the "help" he was seeking on Trump's behalf: Assistance in determining how the Ukraine government "assisted" Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign by disseminating documents about former Trump campaign chairman and convicted felon Paul Manafort's work in the country, and the "collateral" matter of the claim a Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden, one of Joe Biden's sons, while the then-vice president was pushing for the removal of a prosecutor who was investigating the oligarch who was running the energy company. 
Ukraine did not aid the Clinton campaign nor was Vice President Biden involved in trying to oust the prosecutor.   
But both story lines, false as they may be, stoke the sputtering fires that hard-right conspiracy freaks, who with encouragement from Trump, Giuliani and the president's congressional sycophancy, are trying to keep burning by asserting Democrats have been doing all kinds of horrible things at a time when Trump, his family and business are targets of no fewer than 29 federal, state and congressional investigations.   
Biden, of course, is being shortlisted for Clintonizing (although "Lock Him Up Joe" doesn't have the same cachet as "Lock Her Up Hillary") because he not only is the first declared Democratic candidate of the 20 or so in the 2020 race whom Trump genuinely fears, but has gone on the attack against the president in early stump speeches.     
Meanwhile, to give the feckless news media some benefit of the doubt, that open letter signed by all those former federal prosecutors hasn't gotten anywhere near the coverage it demands because there is so damned much else going on in the Washington swamp, including Trump stonewalling all those investigations and the increasing (we hope and pray) drumbeat for impeachment. 
Like Giuliani's trip, the open letter should be deeply embarrassing to the White House and especially Attorney General William Barr, whose whitewash of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on his 22-month Russia scandal investigation and maladroit efforts to keep an unredacted version from Congress and refusal to testify before House committees   came as no surprise. 
The former prosecutors, who served in the Justice Department from the Eisenhower administration on, make clear that charging Trump because of the severity of his conduct would be an easy call if he were not president: "We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment. . . . The overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report." 
"It seems to me important, especially today, for lawyers to speak with consistency about the rule of law and apply it without consideration of party," said signatory Paul Rosenzweig, an assistant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr in the investigation of President Clinton that led to his impeachment by the House in 1998. 
Back to that bit about history having a pretty good way of eventually making sense of current events. 
There is the in-progress view of some historians that Trump's presidency is an aggregation of the lesser traits of his predecessors.  As in the bullying of LBJ, paranoia of Richard Nixon, incuriosity of Ronald Reagan, shamelessness of Bill Clinton, incompetence of George W. Bush and strategical impatience of Barack Obama. 
But that view is premature and peremptory, to say the least, because attributing even those negative traits to Trump is to give him too much credit.  When the definitive histories are written, with those obligatory chapters on Giuliani's trip not taken and the former prosecutors' open letter not appreciated, Trump will stand out for what he is -- a one-off president in a league of his own for criminality, crap and corruption. 

Click HERE for a summary of ongoing Trump-related investigations.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
 and related developments.   

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Further On Down The Road: Why That 'Basket Of Deplorables' Isn't Going Away

You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?  They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic – Islamophobic – you name it. ~ HILLARY CLINTON (September 9, 2016) 
There are two reliable constants in the Category Five shitstorm that is the Donald Trump presidency.  Things are going to get worse and his much-vaunted "base" -- Hillary Clinton's infamous "basket of deplorables" -- isn't going away.   
These voters are a wondrously malodorous thing.  They don't just tolerate lies, greed, corruption and cruelty, they vote for them.  And for the historically inclined, there has never been such a huge bloc of immovable voters, estimated at upwards of 40 percent of registered votes although probably less, nor a president whose every move is predicated on stoking and coddling that bloc no matter how vile or destructive the consequences. Not even supporters of the relatively short-lived No-Nothing Party of the mid-19th century compare.   
For those of us who awaken each day in fear of what Trump's latest outrage might be -- and they come with the regularity of a ticking clock -- there is endless wonderment over how so many people can be so ignorant. 
What exactly is Trump's base"?
* White evangelicals: Many "born-again" Christians have backed Republicans for years, but upwards of 70 percent support the sinful Trump.  
* White men: The gender gap in was never higher than in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was the first woman nominated for president by a major party. 
* White non-college: This should come as no surprise if you equate bigotry and ignorance with having less education.
* Whites over 50: This is further evidence that retirees will make up a significant proportion of the Republican Party in coming years. 
* Whites over $50,000: Contrary to assumptions, median Trump voters aren't poor because many poor voters do not vote.
* White rurals: As voting has become more geographically polarized, non-city and non-suburban voters have trended Republican.
The common denominator among these six groups is, of course, their abject whiteness. 
This should come as no surprise because of the discriminatory Republican policies of the last 50 years and Trump's unabashed racism and embrace of white nationalists.  But what astonishes if -- and only if -- you naïvely believe that Christians practice what they preach is the strength of Trump's white evangelical support. 
Nearly four in five white evangelical voters voted for Trump in 2016 although he is a thrice-married, foul-mouthed narcissist who has been pro-choice and pro-gay.  None of the other groups in his "base" came close to delivering such overwhelming support. 
Trump resonates with the God Squad for one simple reason -- fear. 
He has been articulating the fears of evangelicals since Barack Obama, who we all know is not really a Christian, let alone an American, became president and evangelicals realized that the Republican Party establishment had sold them down the river in repeatedly promising to fight their battles. 
Fear causes people to shut down, and this informs faith.  And then there's the bullshit about evangelicals being forgiving, which prompted Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, to famously contend that the evangelical community has given Trump a "mulligan" when it comes to his personal behavior. 
"Yes, evangelicals, conservatives, they gave him a mulligan. They let him have a do-over. They said we'll start afresh with you and we'll give you a second chance," Perkins explained last year. 
It is tempting to suggest that Clinton's "deplorables" had been lurking in the shadows for years just waiting for a demigod like Trump to come along and water them.  But that is half wrong, just like Hillary's basket was half full.
Clinton was roasted to a turn for impolitically stating the obvious, and soon was compelled to apologize.  The gibe, used to great effect by Trump at the direction of his handlers at rallies down the homestretch of the campaign, was to shadow her through and beyond Election Day.   
But while there certainly were millions of voters ("tribalists" in current political psychobabble) who had been lurking in the shadows, there were many millions more for whom Trump had a sometimes counterintuitive appeal like those frustrated evangelicals who were sick and tired of Republicans -- notably George W. Bush -- promising them the moon and not delivering.  Trump the huckster, in their eyes, delivered and has kept delivering even while wiping his backside with the Ten Commandments. 
Veteran "National Interest" political columnist Dick Polman recently articulated three reasons why Trump's "cultists," to appropriate a word from the headline over his column at public broadcast station WHYY's website. 
Here they are:
* They love how Trump beat the system and wish they could be him. 
Real and fabled criminals and rogues enjoy huge popularity. Even if Trump’s voters were to admit, deep down, that the guy has conned them out of their socks, they'll love him anyway for sticking it to the IRS.  
* They have no interest in vetting Trump's so-called credentials. 
Clinton warned voters early on about Trump's phoniness, notably as it regarded his wealth and why he wouldn't release his tax returns, but Trump's "base" hated Clinton on sight and were deaf to her words. 
* They dwell within the Fox News bubble. 
Typical and not-made up comment from a Fox blondette: "If anything, you read this (story) and you're like, 'wow, it's pretty impressive, all the things that he's done in his life.' It's beyond what most of us could ever achieve!"
Trump's "base" does not care about any of this.  As Polman so acutely puts it, "They're eternally tethered to the delusion that he's a winner." 
I can take some comfort -- hell, great comfort on day when Trump is further denuded by the latest news developments, perhaps a break in one of the extraordinary 29 investigations against he, his family and business that would humiliate someone who actually had a conscience  -- that the rest of us know the truth, as malleable as that word has become.   
But then I get to thinking about that basket of deplorables. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Donald Jr. Shit Storm Proves That We Are Indeed In A Constitutional Crisis


This is how democracy ends: Not with a bang, but with a long debate over whether we’re using the right words. ~ DAHLIA LITHWICK 
And now for a pause from our regular programming to ponder whether the U.S. is in a constitutional crisis.  
In groping for an answer, let's first confront what may be the three best arguments for there not being a crisis.  First, that other presidents have clashed with Congress, most recently Barack Obama over subpoenas against Attorney General Eric Holder by the Republican congressional leadership.  Second, that the deepening battle royale between the House Democratic leadership and Donald Trump on oversight and investigative powers is exactly what the Constitution envisioned.  And third, that many of Trump's assertions of executive privilege may well be legal under the Constitution, which bestows sweeping powers and authority on the president. 
All three arguments are factually accurate, but only to a point.  Where they founder is in applying the Duck Test.  You know, "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." 
By that simple measure, the U.S. is indeed in a constitutional crisis and has been since Trump put his hand on the Lincoln Bible on January 21, 2017, told the first of many thousand of lies as president in swearing to uphold his oath of office and then, in his first act of office, signed an executive order closing America's borders to refugees from seven Muslim countries.  Federal courts struck down the ban, but Trump told customs agents to enforce it. 
Deepening the crisis is that Trump has cleverly framed the current state of play as a standoff between himself and Democrats.  In other words, politics as usual.   
This obscures what is really going on -- a shattering of presidential norms so vast and unprecedented, a level of defiance so acute as to be almost too huge to grasp, and a Republican congressional sycophancy all in for Trump -- especially the minions up for reelection in 2020 who fear that if they anger the Don he'll endorse a primary opponent.  
John Yoo, architect of the infamous Bush-era torture memos, believes that the impasse is without precedent because Trump -- and Attorney General William Barr -- are trying to block  all congressional investigations into the president regardless of law or merit.
"Whether it is a constitutional crisis or constitutional confrontation, I'll let you guys [make] the choice.  Maybe I'll stick with confrontation this week," Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Thursday. 
Not coincidentally, Warner is riding shotgun for Senator Richard Burr, Republican chairman of the Republican-controlled committee, which has shown an astonishing degree of independence in an era when Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are running neck-to-neck to see who should wear the brilliant yellow Benedict Arnold Traitors Coat.  
The president's assertions-by-tweet that it's all just partisan politics has been chopped off at the knees by Burr and his committee, which inconveniently for Trump Sr. has subpoenaed Trump Jr. for an encore appearance regarding some of the dicier aspects of the Russia scandal that he lied about the first time around, thereby inconveniently refocusing the state of play to what it is -- an historically profound standoff between the president and Congress over its constitutionally-mandated oversight and investigative obligations. 
Donald Jr., of course, will resist the subpoena under orders from Daddy-O, whose steady diet of Fox News appears to have blindsided him to the possibility that stonewalling all congressional requests might foul his own nest.  
The subpoena has set off a firefight between Burr and Republicans like McConnell and Graham who have declared that it's time to move on since in their view Trump Sr. has indeed been "completely and totally exonerated" by Robert Mueller's report on his 22-month Russia scandal investigation. 
Senator Marco Rubio, a committee member with whom candidate Trump memorably got into a fight about penis size during the 2016 Republican primary, deftly if unintentionally put the lie to the exoneration crowd in noting "Mueller is a criminal justice investigation. Ours is an intelligence investigation about the Russia threat and about the way our agencies performed." 
Meanwhile, Burr isn't the only Republican big shot who is pushing back. 
Representative Devin Nunes, who as the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was an obedient Trump poodle, has joined Adam Schiff, who became the chairman after the Democratic Blue Wave midterm election victories, in subpoenaing Barr to provide the unredacted Mueller report. 
In the end -- although the end certainly is not in sight -- what Trump is doing is engaging in a structural assault on congressional subpoena power, although there is no question that is well within its rights.  He is daring Democras to initiate impeachment proceedings against him because he knows the Republican-majority Senate will not convict and a failed impeachment effort might enhance his reelection prospects, which have taken a predictably ugly turn as he tries to Clintonize the Joe Biden campaign.  
But the standoff is not static, and because of that Trump's calculations may be miscalculations.  
In fact, the state of play some 18 months before the 2020 election is fluid and changing, witness the internecine fight over the Donald Jr. subpoena.   And a federal judge this week fast tracked Trump's challenge of a Democratic subpoena from the House Oversight Committee for his accounting firm's records.  This means that the overall standoff will end up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later. 
I continue to believe that Trump (and Barr) will ultimately fail in the Supreme Court for the same reasons that Richard Nixon failed during Watergate -- the elemental reasons enshrined in the very Constitution that Trump loves to hate.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

This Just In: Dealmaker Donald Lost Much More Money Than Any Other Taxpayer

We have pretty much become inured to Donald Trump's runaway narcissism, so much so that news media stories revealing the president's pathological lies and boasts and most of all his profound corruption, roll in and out of the national consciousness like so many bad dreams that we never seem to awaken from.  But The New York Times has now published the mother of all blockbusters in reporting that the man whose self-spun narratives of dealmaking acumen and extraordinary business successes as a self-made billionaire did much to propel him to the White House not only was a lousy businessman, but he appears to have lost substantially more money than any other American taxpayer in a single decade. 
The Times, in revealing a far different and substantially darker picture of Trump's financial condition, reports that the data it obtained from official IRS tax transcripts for the years 1985 to 1994:
[R]epresents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view.  Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse. 
The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses -- largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings.  They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.
In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the IRS compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners.  His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 -- more than $250 million each year -- were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the IRS information for those years.
Overall, Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years, and while The Times story finesses the matter, it is almost certain that Trump's business record since then is just as problematic.   
If there is a hole in The Times exposé, it is the question of how you lose over a billion dollars if you don’t have over a billion dollars to begin with.  
But that's a trick question because the correct answer is that you can do things that cause over a billion dollars in losses by leaving business partners, lenders and vendors holding much of the bag.  In other words, losses Trump claimed on his tax returns actually were borne by others, further evidence that Trump is less a shrewd businessman than a grifter.
Another big clue is provided by longtime lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen, who joined the Trump Organization in 1995 and began a three-year prison term on Monday for his role in Trump's illegal hush money payments to women with whom he had affairs.  Cohen has testified that Trump routinely undervalued properties for tax purposes and overvalued them when seeking bank loans, which are likely indicators of tax, insurance and bank fraud.  Trump, for example, omitted from his 2017 campaign finance report his obligation to repay Cohen for a $130,000 hush payment Cohen made on his behalf to the porn film actress Stormy Daniels.   
Trump, for his part, responded to The Times story by insisting that he meant to lose money on his businesses, calling it "sport." 
Speaking of sports, typical of Trump's financial shenanigans is his 2017 report that his Irish golf business had revenues of $14 million, while a separate report to Irish regulators said the business lost $2 million. 
Beyond being yet another reminder of how utterly unfit Trump is to be president, The Times story reinforces how imperative it is that House Democrats fight back against the administration's stonewalling and refusal to comply with subpoenas pertaining to his personal and his family business's finances, a battle that escalated this week with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin's refusal to provide the president's more recent tax returns, as required by law, as well as Trump's assertion of executive privilege over the unredacted Mueller report. 
The Times story also begs the question of how Trump got out from under such enormous debt, if he indeed did, and where the money came from. 
Did foreign banks and investors who are now cashing in on Trump's presidency help out? How about Russian oligarchs and mobsters hardwired to Trump's best friend Vladimir Putin whose extensive use of Trump properties to launder their ill-gotten gains has been copiously documented? 
"The [Times]story not only explodes the myth of Donald Trump as a successful businessman.  It also shows how skilled he is at perpetuating a lie," says Max Bergmann of the Moscow Project.  "For more than 30 years he convinced everybody -- the press, banks, investors, the stock market and the American public -- that Donald Trump was this great business success, when in fact he was losing money at a truly shocking rate. 
"It shows he is an incredible con man able to live two lives.  He is someone who can never be taken at his word, and this means examining his taxes and financial records is an urgent national security imperative." 
I urged you to read The Times exposé twice.   
Once to blow your mind and again, as you mop up the pieces of your blown mind, to confirm that Donald Trump is even more corrupt than we imagined.  

Monday, May 06, 2019

Department Of Lowered Expectations: Mueller's Testimony Likely To Disappoint

A comical although not funny ha-ha sidelight of the nightmare Donald "Complete and Total Exoneration" Trump has inflicted on America is his ability to keep stepping on his willie.   
Trump, who reliably continues to act like the guilty criminal and agent for Vladimir Putin that he is, now says he does not want Robert Mueller to testify before Congress after saying that if Attorney General William Barr approves an appearance by the special counsel, then it's okey-dokey with him.  Barr, in fact, has approved Mueller testifying, and he is (very) tentatively scheduled to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee on May 15. 
What now? 
Trump's about-face -- which comes hot on the heels of his demanding that Barr not share an unredacted version of Mueller's 448-page report on his Russia scandal investigation after saying that also was okey-dokey with him -- puts welcome pressure on both president and lapdog. 
Barr, of course, has proven himself a worthy toady in whitewashing Mueller's deeply damaging report and not acting as the independent attorney general and chief law enforcement officer (emphasis mine) that his oath and the Constitution require. 
So does Barr now do his own about-face and again cave in to Trump?  Or should he take a break from dissembling and tell the president in his most obsequious tone of voice that Mueller should be allowed to testify?    
I don't know what Barr may decide, but I do know that Mueller is likely to disappoint when and if he does testify. 
This is because we know enough about the Barr-redacted version of the report, as well as a pretty good idea of what many of the blacked-out passages say, to conclude that Trump repeatedly violated his oath and constitutional obligations.  
Mueller and his investigators found Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, the Trump campaign was willing to take that help because it expected to benefit at the ballot box, Trump himself repeatedly pushed for obtaining Hillary Clinton's private emails and was well in the loop himself, including knowing when WikiLeaks would release more damaging information in the form of Russian-hacked emails. 
We also can conclude that Mueller and his investigators found that Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct justice sometimes failed only because his staffers refused to carry out his orders, and to be more precise, Trump did succeed in obstructing in at least 10 instances, but as president can't be indicted, a hugely important but widely misunderstood conclusion.   
Also lost in the sauce is that Mueller inferred in his report that it was now up to Congress to pursue the obstruction question.  And that the deep-state conspiracy theories -- that Mueller and the FBI were out to get Trump -- collapse because of the utter lack of evidence, the natterings of Trump, Barr and the right-wing sycophancy notwithstanding.
Given the opportunity, the ever circumspect Mueller will be repeating his conclusions to the Judiciary Committee (and hopefully the House Intelligence Committee, as well), but do not expect much beyond him helpfully citing the pages and paragraphs where these conclusions appear in his report. 
That will be a big and anticlimactic yawn, but where Mueller might salvage a committee appearance and further cement a positive historic legacy is in testifying to the ugly particulars of his unsuccessful efforts to get Barr to lay off the whitewash, which included a letter to the AG that he described as "snitty." 
(Technically, Mueller still is a special counsel on the Justice Department payroll.  If that is used as an excuse to prevent him from testifying, he will soon be a private citizen and presumably would be free to blab.)   
Barr blew off an appearance last Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee the day after obfuscating his way through a contentious Senate Judiciary Committee. 
He is now looking down the barrel of a House Judiciary Committee contempt citation for refusing to provide an unredacted copy of the report by a May 1 deadline as Trump comically blathers on about how two years of his presidency were "stolen" by that nasty Mueller and a duplicitous FBI, his former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen begins a three-year prison sentence vowing that he has "more to tell," and more than 600 former Justice Department prosecutors stated in an open letter released on Monday that Trump would be facing multiple felony charges if he were not president. 
That extraordinary number of prosecutors, including U.S. attorneys who served presidents from the Eisenhower administration onward, is a powerful rebuttal to Barr's contention that the evidence Mueller uncovered was "not sufficient" to establish that Trump committed a crime. 
Among the high-profile signers are Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney and Justice Department official in the Reagan administration who is running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination; Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration; John S. Martin, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge appointed to his posts by Republican presidents; Paul Rosenzweig, who served as senior counsel to independent counsel Ken Starr; and Jeffrey Harris, who worked as the principal assistant to Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani when he was at the Justice Department in the Reagan administration. 
"All of this conduct -- trying to control and impede the investigation against the President by leveraging his authority over others -- is similar to conduct we have seen charged against other public officials and people in powerful positions," the former prosecutors wrote.  They said that prosecuting such cases was "critical because unchecked obstruction --which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished --  puts our whole system of justice at risk.” 
True, and that is why the House Democratic leadership is tiptoeing toward initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump. 
Beyond providing yet more fodder for "Saturday Night Live" cold opens, these developments further escalate the battle royale between a president who believes himself above the law and a Congress -- the Democrats, anyway -- demanding that he adhere to the Constitutional and submit to oversight. 
This, as they say, will not end well. 

Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
 and related developments.       

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Trump Has Stacked The Deck, So Pelosi Must Play The Impeachment Card. Now.

The perils for Democrats in initiating impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump -- and for good measure, Attorney General William Barr -- are formidable and daunting. Impeachment will further polarize and distract Americans already figuratively and sometimes literally at each other's throats.  It will threaten the constitutional order, such as it is.  And as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledges, impeachment actually would be the easy way out for complicitous Republicans "because they know it will end at the Senate’s edge." 
This leaves Pelosi and the Democratic House leadership with two stark choices:
Forget about impeachment.   
Continue to investigate Trump, his family and businesses to a fare the well, dithering for the next 18 months as the president further consolidates his grip on power, continues to dominate the debate over the Russia report, resists numerous subpoenas and engages in endless legal battles, and in the end quite possibly is reelected.   
Move on impeachment. 
This will send a clear message that the republic cannot tolerate a criminal president who has repeatedly violated his oath of office, declares himself above the law, and has transformed the very facets of government -- notably the Justice Department and many federal appeals courts -- that should be counters to him into handmaidens.  
Pelosi has been a capable opposition leader at a time when Democrats and Republicans can agree on little beyond the menace of robocalls, forget the menace of a rogue president who happens to be a voracious grifter and reliably embraces America's greatest foe and its ruthlessly autocratically leader.  She is a brilliant parliamentarian and has deftly fended off challenges from wet-behind-the-ears freshman legislators like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who, while representing the future of their party, are not quite ready to lead it.
As yet another deeply depressing week slouched to an end after Barr outted himself as a toady and Trump again cozied up to Vladimir Putin in a phone chat over the "Russian hoax" while vowing anew to destroy Obamacare and endorsed the far-right hate mongers banned by Facebook, both president and AG actually strengthened the Democrats' hand, but only if you believe that upholding the Constitution is paramount to the viability of American democracy. 
First, precisely because Special Counsel Robert Mueller adhered to Justice Department policy and did not recommend indicting a sitting president, the question of what to do about Russian electoral interference and Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct Mueller's investigation has passed out of the hands of the Justice Department and into the hands of Congress. 
Second, Barr's refusal to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and release to Congress an unredacted copy of Mueller's report are illegal obstacles to its broad legal authority to investigate and legislate on matters like the integrity of elections, relations with foreign powers, and the honest conduct of the executive branch. 
Third, Barr's legal "reasoning" is crackpot and legally unsustainable.  His premise is that it is unfair to accuse Trump of a crime if you are not going to charge him and it's the responsibility of the Justice Department to determine if Trump committed a crime. So since Trump cannot be charged and cannot be accused, he must be cleared.  
That is why I continue to believe that Trump (and Barr) will ultimately fail in the Supreme Court when the lower court challenges to House Democrats play out, which certainly will not be anytime soon.  And it should be noted that the Constitution confers the power to impeach exclusively on Congress, and that power cannot be challenged by any court.
Pelosi, meanwhile, finally is sending signals that enough is enough.   
Prior to a news conference at which she accused Barr of lying to Congress, she was even more explicit in meeting behind closed doors with the House caucus, calling Barr an "enabler" and saying Trump had engaged in the very kind of behavior that prompted Richard Nixon's impeachment in 1974. 
"Ignoring subpoenas of Congress, not honoring subpoenas of Congress — that was Article 3 of the Nixon impeachment," she said.  "This person has not only ignored subpoenas, he has said he's not going to honor any subpoenas.  What more do we want?" 
Indeed.  But Pelosi still stopped short of calling for impeachment although she has effectively run out of options. 
I would recommend that she commit to memory the fiery call to arms of a young firebrand in the mold of AOC who in a bygone era declared on the floor of the House:
When a president gets out of bounds and doesn't do what he or she should do, constitutionally -- and I would argue that every president and every citizen has a constitutional duty not to cheat another citizen . . . and they get out of bounds it is up to us to put them back in bounds or declare it illegal. And how do we do that?  How do we regulate presidential misconduct when it's done in a presidential fashion? Through the laws and powers of impeachment . . . I don’t want my country to be a country of equivocators and compartmentalizers for the next century and that’s what this case is about -- equivocation and compartmentalizing.
The year was 1998, the firebrand was then-Representative Lindsey Graham and the target of his animus was Bill Clinton, who had lied about his sexual liaisons with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. 
Graham, of course, has become Trump's poodle.  As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will lead the charge against convicting this president at an impeachment trial as he led the charge against that other president, who although impeached was acquitted in the Senate, which could not even muster a simple majority let alone the two-thirds majority necessary to convict a president guilty of nothing more than lousy judgment. 
Clinton's "crimes" pale in comparison to Donald Trump's, of course, and it should be noted that even Nixon's conviction in the Senate was not assured when the articles of impeachment were brought before the House Judiciary Committee in 1974. 
But two things are certain as Pelosi ponders which of those stark choices to make -- impeach or surrender.   
Impeachment will not move Trump's "base," which doesn't just tolerate lies, greed, corruption and cruelty, but votes for them.  The same goes for his Republican congressional sycophancy. 
And in the wake of the Russia scandal report, a deeply damning "exoneration" if ever there was one, Donald Trump is more dangerous than ever and his attacks on the Constitution and the Rule of Law will only get worse.  

Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
 and related developments.